Author: Tiffany Ames-Anderson, BSU student
When Carol Rio first started in the flower industry, she was 24 years old and looking for a job at the newspaper. As a part time college student who was studying Russian, she had done quite a few retail jobs before but never anything to do with flowers. She stumbled upon a posting for a floral design job and something just seemed to call to her. It would be a few years before she realized that it was her calling in life and that she flowers were more than just a job to her; they were a career. Carol worked in a flower shop for two years before moving to Boston for a six-month florist course and becoming a manager in South Boston.
Pillsbury Florist was started in 1912 and had been owned by the same family up until Carol bought the business 37 years ago from the granddaughter of the original owner. Buying and running a business in a town like West Bridgewater was hard at first as she was considered an “outsider” to a tight knit community.
Being an outsider wasn’t the only thing that made running Pillsbury Florist difficult though. The building and the business both needed a lot of TLC and it was a while before she was able to really run the business the way she wished. Despite the obstacles, she jumped right in and with a few other florists hired an advertising agency to help promote her business to the public. Every holiday Carol would mail about a thousand flyers to existing and potential customers who she hoped would order flowers from her. Orders had to be taken long handed, as it was before computers, and she and her employees would stuff and mail each letter by hand.
Times have changed since mass mailings were the ideal way to reach a large swath of people. Now, Pillsbury Florist has a website and Carol runs a Facebook page for the store which allows her to post available arrangements and promotions that her followers can like and share. But there are challenges that come with advertising over the Internet. Her website can be hard to find, especially for people from a particular generation, and when customers Google the business, they don’t realize the first links they see are paid ads. They aren’t aware that the information attached to those links are not related to Pillsbury Florist.
Carol has faced other difficulties besides promoting her business effectively. In 1997, she opened a branch of Pillsbury Florist in East Bridgewater. This location did okay but it meant dividing her business in half and ultimately Carol closed the East Bridgewater location in 2011. Once she had closed the East Bridgewater shop, the West Bridgewater shop did better and gained a lot of carried over customers. In 2020, the biggest challenge Carol faces is the chain stores and big box stores that sell flowers and plants like Lowes and Costco. They can sell their floral products for cheaper than Carol can even buy them herself. These big box stores are convenient for shoppers who do not want to go to a separate location and can buy flowers while shopping for groceries or even while getting gas. But Pillsbury Florist still has an advantage in one particular area and that is funeral arrangements, as big box companies just can’t provide the necessary products for such an occasion.
Carol doesn’t think there is much she would change if she started all over again but she did say she wishes she had understood earlier the cyclical nature of this business. That one needs to build the business to support the staff but there is only so much you can do before you need more help to grow farther. You have to get to a point where you are good where you are and couldn’t push too much. As for the future, Carol would consider stepping back and retiring if the right opportunity arose.